Chromium is a relative newcomer to the recognized list of essential
nutrients. In 1948, it was identified as an important component of plant and
animal tissue, but it was not until 1977 that it was considered an essential
The importance of chromium in human diets has been recognized only
in the past 20 years. There is much to learn about this mineral, but
chromium deficiency may be related to both diabetes and coronary heart
Dr. Gary Evans of Nutrition 21, the manufacturer of chromium picolinate, was
a former nutrition scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dr.
Evans discovered that picolinic acid could bind tightly to trace
minerals such as chromium. He believed that combination of the two
substances could possibly expedite absorption and nutritional efficiency. In
response to a request from Nutrition 21, Dr. Evans created chromium
picolinate. After testing the substance in laboratory rats, he concluded
that it was “far better absorbed and retained than inorganic chromium.” The
U.S. Department of Commerce later gave Nutrition 21 the exclusive license to
produce and market chromium picolinate.
Dr. Walter Mertz has also conducted research with chromium and dietary
yeasts. He identified the compound that binds insulin to cell membranes and
helps to regulate normal blood sugar metabolism. He named this compound
Glucose Tolerance Factor or GTF. It was Dr. Mertz’s theory that the
combined effectiveness of chromium and niacin complexes are as effective as
the GTF extracts from brewer's yeast, the richest known source of chromium
in nature. The chromium-niacin product uses a patented “oxygen coordinated”
complex and claims to be 300 percent more effective than chromium
picolinate. Scientific acceptance of this claim has yet to be substantiated.
Nutrient Composition and Function of Chromium
Chromium is generally accepted as an essential nutrient that plays an
important role in insulin action and thus influences carbohydrate, lipid,
and protein metabolism. The specific biochemical function of chromium has
not yet been clearly defined; that is the chemical nature of the
relationship between chromium and insulin function has not been identified.
The most studied function of chromium is in relation to the maintenance of
normal cell glucose uptake. Chromium’s function as a Glucose Tolerance
Factor remains controversial, but it has been suggested that GTF-chromium
helps to form a connection between insulin and insulin receptors that
facilitate insulin-tissue interaction. Chromium, as found in brewer’s yeast
and in some other naturally occurring and synthetic complexes, appears to be
effective in stimulating glucose metabolism.
Chromium picolinate is a combination of biologically active trivalent
chromium and picolinic acid. (Trivalent chromium is the biologically active
form of chromium.) In fact, it is considered an isomer of nicotinic acid,
and because of its structure, can form strong ties to chromium and other
Chromium Picolinate is not believed to occur in nature and therefore is not
recognized as an essential compound that will cause deficiency if it is
absent from the diet. However, chromium picolinate’s role is thought to be
similar to other forms of chromium such as that found in brewer's yeast.
Purported Dietary Relationship of Chromium
The importance of chromium in human diets has been recognized only in the
past 20 years. There is much to learn about this mineral, but low levels of
chromium may be related to both diabetes and coronary heart disease.
In both animals and man, a chromium deficiency is characterized by impaired
glucose tolerance and elevated serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Chromium deficiency appears most commonly in infants maintained strictly on
breast milk whose mothers do not take a nutritional supplement, in children
who are malnourished, and in the elderly. Since sensitive measures of
chromium status are not available, marginal chromium deficiencies may go
There is very little data regarding chromium values of foods. What we do
know is that egg yolks, whole grains such as bran, yeast, and meats are good
sources. The ultimate chromium level in foods is closely tied to the local
soil content of chromium. Due to the many diverse locations of farms, it
makes it difficult to arrive at food averages.
Summary of Research
There is some preliminary research regarding chromium picolinate and the
following studies published between 1992 and 1994 offer some insight.
However, published scientific peer-reviewed studies are rare. Most of the
published materials appearing in the marketplace have been written by Dr.
Gary Evans, who first produced the product, and Dr. Walter Mertz.
In conclusion, the claims that chromium products burn fat or build muscle
mass appear to be lacking, while knowledge of its role in carbohydrate
metabolism and blood sugar or insulin regulation continues to grow.
- Chromium supplementation has been shown to lower total cholesterol
and triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol, according to a study
published in the Western Journal of Medicine in 1990. In
another study, when chromium was combined with niacin (Vitamin B3),
blood cholesterol was lowered more significantly than with chromium
alone. This study was published in the Journal of Family Practice in
- Triglyceride levels were reduced in a crossover study of 14 men and
16 women who had non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Each
subject was randomly assigned to take chromium picolinate or a placebo
(sugar pill). This was followed by a 2 month washout period. Subjects
were then crossed over and received an alternate capsule for 2 months.
The results indicate that there are positive short-term changes
associated with the use of chromium picolinate but long-term studies are
needed to see if changes are sustained.
- Chromium picolinate has been purported to increase muscle mass and
decrease adipose (fatty) tissue (an added benefit according to its
patent holders). Scientific research has yet to confirm these benefits
and there are some studies which refute this claim all together.
- Chromium picolinate supplements (200mcg/day) were taken for nine
weeks by football players. The supplements were ineffective in bringing
about changes in body composition or strength during a program of
intensive weight training.
- Fifty-nine beginning weight training college students took either a
placebo or 200mcg chromium picolinate per day over a 12-week period. All
groups had significant changes in body circumference and decrease in
skinfold thickness. The authors concluded that chromium picolinate
supplementation had a greater effect on females than males. These
positive results are believed to be the result of the weight training
rather than the use of chromium picolinate.
Safety & Toxicity
The Estimated Safe and Adequate Daily Dietary Intake (ESADDI) of chromium
for adults is 50-200mcg Under the NLEA (Nutrition Labeling & Education Act)
an RDI (Reference Daily Intakes) of 120mcg has recently been established.
This amount is higher than the current estimated 25-35mcg average daily
dietary intake in North America.
Trivalent chromium appears to have such a low order of toxicity that effects
from excessive intake do not often occur. Chromium becomes toxic only in
extremely high amounts, and it acts first as a gastric irritant rather than
as a toxic element. Dr. Anderson, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
believes chromium toxicity is very low. Chromium might be deposited in the
liver and kidneys, but amounts of up to 300 micrograms per day are
considered safe as a supplement.
Chromium toxicity has been reported in people exposed to industrial waste
and in painters using art supplies with very high chromium content. (This
form of chromium is significantly different than the chromium found in
nutritional supplements.) This over exposure may result in liver damage and
Some Recent Quotes on Chromium From the Experts
"It's virtually impossible to get enough chromium from food. You have to
eat 3,000-4,000 calories per day to get even 50 micrograms. To get the
recommended 120 micrograms, you must eat more than 7,200 calories a
NEW! The Latest Research NEW!
-The U.S. Department of Agriculture
"I call chromium the 'geriatric nutrient' because every body starts to
really need it past age thirty-five."
-Dr. Gary Evans Bemidji State University, Minnesota
"Without enough chromium, excesses of insulin and glucose (sugar) can
build up in your blood, exposing you to diabetes, heart disease, and
other symptoms of premature aging."
-Jean Carper in Stop Aging Now!
According to an exciting new study released in June, 1996 by John
Anderson, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is
now very strong evidence that chromium picolinate may help to normalize
glucose and insulin levels in diabetics. In this study, presented to the
American Diabetes Association, chromium was tested in 180 people in
China with Type II (adult onset) diabetes. Scientists have been aware of
chromium deficiency in diabetics for years, but this time they boosted
doses from the standard 200 micrograms to 1,000 micrograms daily in this
study, and found these higher doses did normalize glucose and insulin
levels in the participants. "We've been doing chromium studies for 20
years and never saw anything this spectacular," said Anderson. The
findings do not mean chromium can cure diabetes, and Anderson urges more
research. However, he does state "If you take people in the general
population with slightly elevated blood sugar and give them chromium
supplements, you'll see a drop in blood sugar in 80 to 90 percent of
In summary, scientists know that chromium is necessary for our muscles to
function properly. It appears to be involved in the transfer of sugar from
the bloodstream to muscle cells, thereby giving them the fuel they need to
work. Chromium is also involved in maintaining cholesterol and triglyceride
levels. If someone suffers from a deficiency, taking a chromium supplement
may eliminate symptoms associated with the deficiency. Research is currently
being conducted to confirm that extra chromium will build new muscle, act as
a fat burner, or aid in weight loss.
The bottom line seems to be that if you have a diet low in chromium or you
feel you may benefit from chromium supplementation, talk to your
local health professional. If you are in a high risk category
for diabetes (adult-onset, not juvenile-onset) a health professional can
best monitor you and document any results. Remember though, dietary control
and management of blood sugar levels are still the best first steps in any